The disabled lobby in Wales this week heaped praise on the Richard Rogers Partnership and the Welsh Assembly for controversially altering their scheme for the principality's seat of government and enabling it to become potentially the 'most accessible parliamentary building in the world'.
Disability Wales director Howard John told the AJ that following his group's criticism of the 'flawed'original competition-winning design by RRP for the parliament building, RRP controversially reworked its scheme by ridding it of what they felt was a problematic array of steps outside the front entrance which ran down to the water's edge. The new-look design replaces the 18 flights of three steps, each crossed by a small diagonal ramp, with a single ramp. John praised both RRP's flexibility and the Assembly for sticking with its original commitment to accessibility for the building but claimed that heritage issues had just as much to do with the new look, since a listed wall in the scheme could not be removed. 'It's a more user-friendly space now and will be the most accessible building in Britain, probably in Europe and perhaps in the world.'
But the changes prompted Cardiff University Professor Richard Weston to cause a media storm last week by pouring scorn on the 'horrendous' and 'politically correct' new-look scheme as a major loss to a city already denied Zaha Hadid's Opera House. 'It's hugely compromised' he told the AJ. 'And the implications of this are far-reaching.'
Weston believes that the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act will adversely affect new buildings, as the disability lobby grows more powerful, and speculated that the Spanish Steps in Rome would never have been built if the act was live then.
John, who is ambulant, said he hoped that the legislation does make a major difference, especially in new buildings, since he fears that 'weasel words' in the Act will allow existing building owners to 'get away'without adapting them. 'Hopefully it will change architecture irreparably, ' he said.
Cardiff is now seeking funding for research into the subject and Weston is speaking on disability legislation as it affects architecture at the Royal Society of Architects in Wales annual conference tomorrow. 'The implications are so far-reaching that you can't ignore it' said Weston.'It's like energy was two or three years ago - now you've got to put it up front or you won't be able to make the building work.
We're so obsessed with regulation - it's tragic.'